Burnouts during a Pandemic: Where do we focus? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 15, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:21 PM, May 18, 2020

Burnouts during a Pandemic: Where do we focus?

The WHO defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and is characterized by three dimensions viz; feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy. Although millions of people are now in lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, burnouts are still very much around. However, things are a bit different this time. Many of us are suddenly finding ourselves without jobs, those who are lucky enough to retain their jobs now have to do so while juggling several additional dilemmas — Is it safe to go out for groceries? How much food should I buy? How do I stay in shape indoors? How do I build and maintain a healthy routine for the kids now that they are indoors and don't go to school? Can I hug them occasionally or should I maintain distance for everyone's safety?

While facing away from all these decisions and dilemmas, we run into a plethora of social media content telling us how to get the best out of us, how to stay productive indoors, how it is the best idea to throw ourselves into that unfinished project as we finally have the time and can stay within our households longer than we generally are. As a result, many of us are feeling exhausted as burnouts have morphed into something more household during this pandemic. Now, let's talk about the factors at play causing such burnouts.

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The Decision Fatigue 

We now have to make more decisions during an average day than we used to. And most of them have to be changed and modified daily depending on the situation of a pandemic, the likes of which we have not faced ever. Many of us are not used to this level of psychological stress. It might be difficult to prioritize our daily tasks with so many factors as to our health, education, and employment out of our control. It is tough to cope with a new house-setup that is functioning as a sanctuary, classroom and office. Hence, it is quite normal if anyone is still trying to figure out how to structure the daily routine and prioritize tasks. The decision fatigue, coupled with the additional pressure we are putting on ourselves to find the smartest and safest choice while taking every decision can lead to a morphed household-burnout. 

Stress of Unwinding 

Dealing with too many decisions is not new for many people. While dealing with some emotional exhaustion and anxiety is expected during such a crisis, the problem for many lies in the fact that they can't rely on the usual coping mechanisms — going to the gym, taking an art class etc — as they used to due to the current situation. At this stage, trying to find and adopt a new activity might make things worse for many.  While trying to cope with this new reality, many are getting more stressed doing things they do not actually love but think is necessary. Those social media posts about boosting productivity and making every second in quarantine count are not for everybody and we should only act on those if that is what we actually find to be stress-relieving and peaceful for us. The approach needs to be individualized.     

The Way Out 

According to Rubaiya Khan, a psychosocial counsellor, "We can follow three simple steps — Awareness, Accept and Allow — to save ourselves from being overwhelmed by everything going on around us. Staying aware is important however it is also necessary to make sure that the sources are reliable. We are living with unknown fear constantly, which can make us anxious. It is important to accept this fear. It is normal to feel anxious and no one is alone in this. And lastly, we need to allow ourselves to heal, feel safe and unwind".

She further added that it is not necessary to become the most productive person out there and is okay to let go. However, it is important to maintain a routine in order to stay fit mentally and physically. It can be exercising, cooking, watching movies, listening to music or anything that brings us joy. If not anything else, we can always go for that childhood hobby that we could never make time for. The approach has to be very individualized and can't be only based on online content or word-of-mouth influence.

This too shall Pass 

Many of us are currently in financial fears, concerned about older parents, disappointed about cancelled plans, and at a loss about what the future holds. While it is usual to get engulfed in all these things, it is always a more peaceful option to look at the bigger picture. Coming out of the pandemic, we will have better abilities to manage and cope with changing situations at work or home. According to experts, things are going to get much easier for us while going about our normal lives because we will have accomplished something very challenging.

Staying sane is more important than "getting things done". It is unrealistic to expect that we can perform above and beyond just because we have abundant time at home. Staying indoors itself is doing a lot for the community. And with every day we do that, we get one day closer to the other side of this pandemic.  

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